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February 21, 2012
Louis Armstrong | Washington’s Birthday | Hazzan Gershom Seixas

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Louis Armstrong’s Jewish Connection

Mardi Gras starts February 21, so this week will be sure to put king cakes, beads, colorful costumes and jazz music in many a mind. And to think one of the greatest jazz musicians ever might credit his start to a Jewish family from New Orleans! In this video from the Milken Archive, New Orleans-based musicologist John Baron discusses Louis Armstrong's relationship with the Karnofskys, a New Orleans Jewish family he worked for, and who lent him the money to buy his first musical instrument -- helping to cement Satchmo’s appreciation for the Jewish people. (Photo credit: Library of Congress)

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Washington’s Birthday: Remembering George Washington and Religious Freedom

n honor of George Washington’s birth anniversary week, the Milken Archive takes a look at David Diamond’s Aḥava—Brotherhood. Commissioned for the 1954 tercentenary celebration of the 1654 founding of the American Jewish community, this work for narrator and orchestra quotes, among other sources, an exchange of letters between the then-newly elected president and a prominent member of the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, Moses Seixas. Seixas’ letter to Washington on the occasion of the official’s visit—quoted toward the close of the second movement—expressed the community’s gratitude for “a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance, but generously affording to All liberty of conscience and immunities of Citizenship.”  (Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery)

David Diamond's Aḥava—Brotherhood  | Learn more about the work.

Gershom Seixas: A Hazzan Attends America’s First Inauguration

As David Diamond's piece reminds us, the relationship between the American government and the American Jewish community has been in place for centuries. Indeed, it was the year before that letter was written that Hazzan Gershom Seixas, brother of Moses Seixas, was one of 14 clergymen who took part in George Washington's inauguration ceremony in 1789. Gershom Seixas served during that time as hazzan at congregation Shearith Israel in New York, which Jewish music aficionados know as an important site in the history of American Jewish music. It was amongst the members of that congregation that America's first Jewish music was heard. And it was primarily under that synagogue's auspices (due in part to the work of Hazzan Seixas's musically able nephew Jacob) that the music of the Amsterdam-Western Sephardi tradition flourished and developed—as heard in our American Choral Settings in Volume 02.